Thursday, 27 July 2017

The Reinvention Economy

The skills you need today, are not the skills you need tomorrow.

We are entering an unprecedented era of accelerating change, and learning what to learn and when is the key to staying relevant. Since publishing my thoughts on Linkedin on and the Totara Learning blog …I thought I would re-post here for posterity. I look forward to your comments.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ray Kurzweil back in 2012 when he spoke at the Learning Technologies Conference in London. He’s described as an author, entrepreneur, futurist and inventor — I remember him from his Kurzweil digital piano days where he applied AI techniques to produce real-sounding synthesised instruments, but he has since become a key influencer in our wider understanding of technology and its impact on our society. He made a key observation that due to the accelerating and catalysing effect of technology we will experience the equivalent of 2,000 years of change in the next 100 years. The force of this change is becoming increasingly visible as industry sectors, economies and political systems are being reshaped, seemingly in real time before our eyes.

We are in a continuous cycle of reinvention — we have entered the reinvention economy.

This has a huge impact on organisations and the workplace environment. Richard Foster, a lecturer at the Yale School of Management, found that the average lifespan of an S&P company dropped from 67 years in the 1920s to 15 years today. It was not that long ago that Kodak owned the photography market — it is no more. Nokia dominated the mobile phone market. It failed to adapt and innovate as Apple (and then Google with Android) entered the market and changed all our expectations of what a smartphone should look and feel like. This cycle is turning again as technology moves away from the touchscreen and more towards more natural and visual language conversation. Samsung is wobbling, the Nokia brand is re-entering the market — the only thing certain is the uncertainty. It comes as no surprise, then, that a massive 95% of learning professionals want to respond faster to today’s changing business conditions (Towards Maturity Benchmark Report 2016).
There is an increasing and persistent pressure to reinvent our products and services, our organisational structures, and ourselves at an unprecedented pace. And as that cycle shortens, the ability to learn and relearn becomes absolutely critical to survival and staying relevant, as is the means to rapidly transfer that learning into productive action. We are in a continuous cycle of reinvention — we have entered the reinvention economy.
The conditions that demand reinvention
With exponential change, you may not notice much at first. Technology has tinkered with the edges of traditional business models, societal design and human behaviour. But now those small changes are being replaced by fundamental shifts in the way the world operates. The effects of Google and Facebook on our ability to connect with information and people are well documented, but in many ways have only just got started. Newer-wave technology companies such as Uber and AirBnB reduce redundancy and inefficiency by allowing more of us to leverage existing assets (cars, accommodation). This is already leading to significant changes in employment patterns and challenging regulatory status quo. The next wave of AI-driven automation will only have deeper implications for how we define work and the economic frameworks needed to sustain our societies.
In the world of work, organisations are finding that technology is transforming the way they can organise themselves. Hierarchical structures are being replaced by interwoven networks where everyone reports and shares with everyone. People can occupy multiple job roles and work across silos. This is essential in order to operate at a competitive pace. This clearly has implications for employees who need to understand the numerous roles they are undertaking, and the necessary competences that they must maintain to be positively productive. Leadership and management need the means by which to nurture, build and redistribute high performing teams, bringing together complementary skillsets to meet specific goals, while remaining vigilant and responsive to changing circumstances.
When change is now business as usual, it is essential that flexibility and control is retained.
Not only that, the very definition of employment is changing. Many companies now are ‘porous’ by design. Their workforce is made up of armies of stakeholders that are not necessarily directly employed. This is challenging everything from the sustainability of government taxation revenues to workers’ rights and benefits. It also challenges how these stakeholders stay optimally productive. As the definition of an ‘employee’ continues to blur, the need for continuous and effective learning technologies only grows.
Staying relevant
While there are newsworthy trailblazers, the larger majority of organisations are in danger of being left behind. They need simpler ways to respond positively to market change, to reorient the skills of their employees and stakeholders (such as their reseller and freelance communities). To achieve this, they need tools and technologies that they can shape around their own needs. When change is now business as usual, it is essential that flexibility and control is retained. Unfortunately, when it comes to procuring enterprise technology platforms, many lack this fundamental ability to support rapid, cost-effective change in a sustainable manner. Indeed, many businesses find themselves locked in, contractually and functionally, to systems that are no longer fit for purpose, and are acting as a drain on their ability to respond positively to a changed marketplace. This seems particularly true of the talent and learning management providers, as clearly characterised by the very low satisfaction levels continually expressed — as few as 30% say they are happy with their learning platform.

Out with the old, in with the new
The traditional — let’s call it ‘old world’ — model no longer cuts it in this new world we live in. Too many organisations find themselves delivering out-of-date training in a style and pace that does not engage their learning community in any useful or productive way. In the worst examples, training intervention is seen more as an interruption to productive work. Reframing learning design so that it produces resources and activities that naturally support productive workflow is more likely to have a net positive benefit to the business. Offering true blended learning experiences that are personalised to the needs of the individual means fundamentally moving away from generic, one-size-fits-all ‘solutions’. These are more accurately described as ‘one-size-fits-none’, and rarely deliver tangible benefits in isolation.
This equally applies to the learning platform itself. Proprietary software — whether offered as Software as a Service or On Premise — are too often ‘one-size-fits-none’ solutions. The feature set is fixed and not easily extended or integrated with other existing systems once finally in place. It is not uncommon to hear of two-year implementations with eye-watering price tags, which are then repeated 3–5 years later once the equally inflexible long term contract expires. The new world demands fresh thinking every 1–2 years, so we can see that this procurement/implementation cycle is just not fit for purpose going forward.
To stay relevant demands the freedom to learn, the freedom to procure well-supported software that remains in the control of the business, not the vendor.
The alternative is to invest in technology that is fundamentally open in nature, both in software and contractual terms. Open software can be extended and integrated much more readily with other systems. Yes, this comes with implementation costs, but by avoiding licence costs and working with a much more flexible and supportive community, the overall cost of ownership becomes dramatically lower. In a world where you need to change direction more frequently, the investment in open source software platforms remains accumulative — you can cost effectively reintegrate, extend functionality (and benefit from others’ extensions too over time) and relocate your implementation completely in line with the needs of your business. Indeed, you, the business, is in control, not one single vendor. With a rich ecosystem of partners committed to supporting open software platforms, you can tap into alternative services and skills that align with the business as it changes.
Reinvention demands greater agility and nimbleness of organisations, their employees and stakeholders. The Towards Maturity Benchmark Report 2016 revealed that 54% of top learning organisations are successfully cultivating agility (encouraging conversation, facilitating connections, tailoring learning to individual needs) compared to just 20% of other organisations, showing that this should be a key priority for businesses looking to stay ahead.
To stay relevant demands the freedom to learn, the freedom to procure well-supported software that remains in the control of the business, not the vendor. Those organisations willing to embrace this wholeheartedly increase their chances of living longer than the current 15 year average.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Education needs to adapt – this time it’s personal

I'm back

Well it's been a while since I posted to this blog. I'm planning to get back into the habit of capturing what I think are important stories, technologies and trends that will impact how we learn and how we improve the design of learning experiences, both online, offline and in between. And by "in between" I refer to what is going to be a powerful merging of virtual and real environments. As always, this will be felt first in how we entertain ourselves - in the world of film and games primarily - but it has huge implications for education and training too. But more on that another time.

A focus on efficacy

The major change for me this year has been to dive into the exciting world of adaptive learning, working with CogBooks, a pioneer in the field. The potential for using algorithmic machine learning to deliver a personalised learning experience for each individual is finally being realised. I've long been interested in how technology can impact efficacy and it has often fallen short. But with adaptive technology we can finally deliver what I clumsily call (for now) a Continuously Improving Learning System. Students can receive immediate, pertinent guidance tailored to their needs, together with targeted feedback from teachers and tutors based on the students' learning behaviour. Equally, educators can review course content based on learners actual patterns of use and uncover areas for improvement and extension that will better support overall outcomes for students going forward.

I've written a separate blog piece for Nesta on the topic which is reproduced below and on the CogBooks blog too, for good measure.

Most importantly, please do let me know what you think will be the impact of adaptive learning. There are many views on how best to harness this technology to best effect. So please do share them.


Education needs to adapt – this time it’s personal

As technology continues to influence the pace of change across nearly all sectors and avenues of life it brings with it the challenge of how to stay productive. How can you ensure your learning and training keeps up with this level of change? Fortunately, we now know much more about the learning process and how best to support people to acquire knowledge and skills.

In recent years it’s become clear that optimising learning to meet individual personal needs, and freeing educators from the constraints they face, is vital.

At CogBooks, we work with education partners in both the US and UK to deliver adaptive learning that allows students to work at their own pace and to the depth they need. By gathering valuable feedback and insights on how learners engage with activities and content, we can ensure they receive timely and targeted support. This keeps them confident and motivated, which in turn reduces dropout rates and maximises achievement. Analytics on how a student has behaved or reacted can also help pinpoint ways teachers can improve their courses for future students.

The move to an evidence-based model, designed to deliver a personalised learning experience at scale, will transform how we educate and train. Yet, unlocking this transformation will require a deeper embrace of technology to fundamentally re-shape our education practices.

This is not wishful thinking. We are already seeing this rapid and disruptive innovation cycle in other sectors (for example retailing, health, entertainment, technology to name a few) and it is now coming to education.

And this goes beyond the current generation of MOOC online course, most of which have garnered a lot of attention in reaching large audiences, but are just at the very beginning of identifying how to successfully sustain engagement and deliver a genuinely personalised learning experience. We need an inclusive approach that uses technology to catalyse the efforts of both faculty and learners together to bring about a real step change in outcomes.

We are already seeing movement towards this deeper goal. In the US, CogBooks is working in collaboration with Arizona State University and NBC Learn, funded by the Gates Foundation, as part of a $20 million initiative to develop Next Generation Courseware. Based on mastery learning principles and learning science the aim is to improve the postsecondary success of more than 1 million low-income students by 2018.
In the UK, the publication earlier this year of the Further Education Technology Action Group (FELTAG)report called for the inclusion of a 10% online component in every publicly-funded learning programme from 2015/16, with incentives to increase this to 50% by 2017/2018. This is an opportunity to apply technology that supports better learning outcomes first, moving beyond the simple replacement of existing offline learning activities.

Elsewhere we are already seeing the adoption of adaptive learning methods gathering pace. Educational publishers are revisiting their textbooks and associated learning products to move from a largely static, linear experience, to create stimulating adaptive versions that respond to students specific needs. For example, the awarding body and examination board, OCR, has taken the full curriculum of GCSE Computer Science and created an adaptive learning course. This enables students to work through course materials at their own pace and receive automated support when they need extra help. At the same time, teachers can track the exact progress and capabilities of each student and target the most appropriate support for their class.

Elsewhere, universities are redesigning their own course content to offer a more blended and flexible experience for students on their degree programmes. This is a real opportunity to offer new non-campus based learners access to alternative qualifications from a quality higher education institution. This can help bridge the gap in expectations between employers and education providers regarding graduate readiness for the workplace. Increasingly we are seeing a demand for education that focuses on skills that can be applied more readily and directly when moving into employment.

Looking forward, this is an exciting opportunity for educators at all levels to design new and innovative learning experiences that can meet the accelerating demands of the world around us.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Have chance, will learn

EdSurge reported this great story from Ethiopia that demonstrates further the power of the motivated learner:

HAVE CHANCE, WILL LEARN: Amazing preliminary results reported by One Laptop Per Child around a bold experiment happening in rural Ethiopia. Several months after dropping off solar-powered Motorola Xoom tablets, 20 first grade-age children have managed their way from finding the on/off switch to hacking the preventative software installed by OLPC. No instructions. No guidelines. No teachers. Just a single technician to retrieve data from the devices each week. "Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch … powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android," reported OLPC’s founder, Nicholas Negroponte at the recent EmTech Conference. Results are hardly conclusive, but the development raises interesting questions around how and why we plan learning objectives (teacher control group anyone?). The story reminds us, too, of Sugata Mitra's experiment of giving village children in India access to a computer via a hole in the wall. For now we'll simply smile about the new learning opportunities enabled by technology.

I'm sure Negroponte will be referring to this again when he keynotes at Learning Technologies Conference, London in January 2013.